by M. David Hornbuckle
Last year, the Birmingham Free Press wrote about Troy Thompson and Laney DeJonge hosting Pere Ubu’s Dave Thomas in their living room. We wondered in that article whether Birmingham would see the trend of living room concerts catching on the way it has in other parts of the country. Recently we learned of another couple, Axel and Susan Barron, who have been hosting a series of concerts at their home in Avondale since April of this year.
Axel and Susan belong to an organization called Concerts In Your Home (www.concertsinyourhome.com/). CIYH helps set them up with artists who will be travelling through the area. Axel says, “It’s a national syndicate of people who allow traveling musicians into their homes to play intimate singer/songwriter shows. Typically the artist(s) show up around 6:30 or 7 pm and hang out for a while until enough people gather.”
The Barrons have set up a stage in their backyard in front of a wide shed, and so they’ve dubbed their endeavor “The Shed Series.” When the weather is rainy or cold, they move the concert inside to their ample living room. The shows are BYOB, but they provide some snacks and other beverages. Instead of selling tickets beforehand, they ask for donations at the event. The suggested donation is $10-15 per person, and all of that money goes to the musician. Axel says, “the artist is encouraged to stay the night at our house, although many do not, but they have that option. The idea is to help these traveling musicians with their costs so that they can spend their money on recording albums and hiring session players.”
The Barrons’ house, on the edge of the newly renovated Avondale Park, is large, open, and inviting. Whether the concert is held in the yard or the living room, the setting is ideal for an intimate evening with a singer/songwriter. Axel says, “We ask our guests to bring a lawn chair and their favorite drink. The artists play two sets, sometimes three, depending on the vibe. During set breaks the artists usually mingle with the crowd. It’s a very intimate setting, and it’s all about the music.”
Artists that have performed at the shed series include Chris Ray and Elle Bijet, Sarah Peacock, SunMoonPie, Carey Murdock, and local favorite Stuart McNair.
“We typically try to have at least one show per month,” Axel says. “The Shed Series has received excellent reviews on the CIYH website by the artists who have played here and I think more and more artists will continue to seek out the venue.”
The Shed Series usually brings a modest crowd of 15 to 20 people. There have been as many as 23, and they think they could handle as many as 40. Typically, the Barrons market their events mainly through word of mouth. Axel says, “Most artists have someone they know in town and usually they bring a few friends to the shows. Sometimes total strangers show up, and that’s okay. It’s usually someone who heard about it through someone who regularly attends or is a friend or acquaintance of the artist. We also invite our close friends and neighbors, those who enjoy this type of thing.”
The Barrons are true believers, and obviously huge music fans. They see the series only getting better in the future. Axel says, “I think it’s only a matter of time before someone quite reputable plays here. You get the sense that these musicians really dig playing in an atmosphere where people are actually listening to what they are playing and saying!”